Belching. Gas. Heartburn. Indigestion. Constipation. Diarrhea. Does this sound like a Tum’s commercial or what? So many of the clients I work with have accepted these symptoms as normal, and the ads we see on TV tell us to go ahead and eat all the junk we want, because we can just pop an antacid or chug some Pepto to get rid of the discomfort! But the above unpleasantries are all symptoms that something is not quite right, and symptoms are your body’s way of alerting you to imbalance. We are taught to pop a pill to get rid of uncomfortable symptoms, but ignore your body’s signals for too long and that’s when bothersome symptoms turn into larger illness.
If you suffer chronically with poor digestion (lots of burping, farting, indigestion, heartburn, undigested food in stool, constipation/diarrhea), you’ll want to uncover the underlying cause. Is it dysbiosis (bad bacteria overgrowth)? If so, what caused that? Parasites? Pathogenic bacteria in the gut? Too much sugar, poor diet, eating inflammatory processed foods? I usually suggest testing to check for unwanted bacteria and parasites in the digestive tract if you struggle chronically with any of the below symptoms. These tests tell us exactly what’s going on, and I typically use herbs to kill off what shouldn’t be there, then probiotics to put back what should be there: good bacteria to colonize your digestive tract.
You can start by troubleshooting your digestion to see what clues are revealed. Try these easy tips to determine what the problem may be.
If you find yourself belching frequently after meals or throughout the day, it could be a sign that you’re not producing enough digestive enzymes such as amylase, protease, and lipase to break down your food. The food ferments and produces gas (which can come out either end). This causes belching, bloating and/or gas. Try a digestive enzyme after you eat, or try 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a little water in between meals to stimulate hydrochloric acid production to help your stomach break down food.
As mentioned above, flatulence can be gas produced because food isn’t being properly broken down. An enzyme can help. Gas may also accompany bloating and can signal you’re eating foods to which you might have allergies or intolerances. The most common are gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, nuts and corn. If your immune system reacts to the proteins in these foods when you eat them, it creates an inflammatory response in your digestive tract and can cause symptoms like gas and bloating. Gluten, dairy and corn are especially difficult to digest. Try eliminating the common allergenic foods and see if the gas disappears. Some people don’t tolerate grains and legumes well because they are difficult to break down. You may try eliminating those foods while working on healing the digestive tract with plenty of probiotics and bone broth. I discuss how to heal your GI tract in this article.
Did you know that heartburn can actually be a sign of underproduction of stomach acid rather than too much? You read that right. Your stomach acid should be around a PH of 2, incredibly acidic, so that it can break down food into a liquid, called chyme, that travels to the small intestine and then the large intestine, where nutrients are absorbed and waste travels onward and outward to be excreted. If your stomach acid is at a higher PH, more alkaline, food cannot be properly broken down. When food is not properly broken down, it sits in the stomach and ferments/putrefies, giving off gases and causing a burning sensation in the stomach and/or throat. This is reflux. The gas also travels out the other end, causing gas and bloating. Antacids will help the burning, but they actually make the problem worse by further neutralizing stomach acid. Click here for more info on why antacids are not a long term solution for reflux.
Heartburn can be a sign that you’re eating foods you’re allergic to (see the list mentioned above), OR you may have dysbiosis or a nasty pathogenic bacteria like h pylori that is preventing your body from producing enough stomach acid, or stomach acid that is too alkaline. Try eliminating the allergenic foods and taking a probiotic and an enzyme. If that doesn’t help, get tested for h pylori, especially if chronic heartburn has been an issue for you. You can kill it off with mastic gum, and DGL licorice can help the pain meantime. Aloe vera juice can also be very soothing and healing.
Bloating immediately after meals means you a) ate too much and can’t break down the food properly b) ate something you don’t digest well or are allergic to c) are not producing enzymes or acidic HCl to break down foods, or d) you have an overgrowth of bacteria digesting the carbohydrates you’re eating, which creates pain and bloating (common with SIBO and candida). Again, try eliminating the potentially allergenic foods, eat slowly, do not drink liquids with meals, and try an enzyme and a probiotic to enhance digestion. Eat probiotic foods like raw kraut with meals. The probiotic foods contain naturally-occurring enzymes to help break down your food. Freshly grated ginger tea after meals can ease bloating and enhance digestion. Daily bloating or feeling “pregnant” by day’s end can signify a bacterial overgrowth like SIBO. Here’s a great primer on using herbs to combat bloating.
Constipation is one of the most common issues I see in my practice. If you’re not having a bowel movement every day, you are constipated. The most common causes are not drinking enough water, eating foods you’re not digesting well (again, the allergenic foods), or not enough good probiotic bacteria in the gut. These bacteria help you break down foods. Click here for more reasons and tips to help. Constipation can be caused by SIBO, hypothyroid, poor gut flora, or food allergy issues.
Chronic diarrhea is no bueno because it means you’re not absorbing everything you’re eating due to rapid transit time through the body. That can set you up for deficiencies. Stomach bugs can trigger diarrhea, but if it’s chronic, try removing dairy first; it can cause loose stool if you are not producing the lactase enzymes to break it down. We produce less and less of this enzyme as we age. Consider stool testing, because many parasites trigger chronic diarrhea. Take a good quality probiotic. Saccharomyces boulardii works very well for acute or travelers’ diarrhea. Also get your thyroid checked– you could be hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid gland).
ALTERNATING CONSTIPATION & DIARRHEA
If you alternate between diarrhea and constipation, it usually signals that there is a problem with your gut flora. Candida albicans (yeast) is typically the culprit. If you also have sugar cravings, bloating, fatigue, and brain fog, you may have a yeast overgrowth in your digestive tract. Click here for more info and learn how to get rid of it.
Solid digestion is the cornerstone of good health. You could be eating the cleanest, organic, nutrient-rich diet in the world, but if you’re not digesting well, you won’t be absorbing all the nutrients from your food. Feeling tired after meals, bloated, and gassy are all signs your digestive tract needs a tune-up. Or if you have bad bacteria overgrowth in your intestinal tract, your digestion can suffer, and inflammation results, throwing your whole system off balance. These troubleshooting tips will help, but consider stool testing if you’ve been struggling with chronic digestive issues, which are usually due to either food allergy issues, dysbiosis, or both. Click here for my top 8 tips to enhance digestion.
Want even more help fixing digestive issues? Check out my 21 day gut reset, a home study course to help you fix digestion and feel better than ever.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.